People Who Died -- October
I know, I know, he spells his name Page, not Paige. I know it now at least. What can I say, I was never a big Zeppelin fan (was thinking of spelling it Zepplin just to set you all off again) and thought he spelled his name the way it should be spelled. Okay, mea culpa. Now, on with the show. Italy was great, by the way.
I know we lost Colin Powell this month but so does everybody else. He is not what this blog is about but given how incredible he was (I mean that, unlike a past President who continues to plumb the depths of malodorous behavior), he will get his due later on. Besides, who wants to talk Joint Chiefs when we can talk boogie boards. That’s right, this month we lost Tom Morey at 86. Morey gave us the boogie board and every garage on the East or West coasts probably has one of his inventions stuffed in there somewhere. They are as ubiquitous as umbrellas and every garage sale features a few of them. Unfortunately for Mr. Morey, who fashioned the first one from a polyethylene board, he sold the company early on to toy manufacturer Kransko and the deal did not give him a royalty, a detail that undoubtedly cost him millions. He had a good outlook on it however, telling the Los Angeles Times in 2003 that even if he had sold it for a billion, “I’m still going to be sitting here in my bathing suit. I’m not going to eat any more than I’m eating.” The Zen of a surfer dude. In his honor, I’m going to unearth one of those boards that is undoubtedly somewhere in the garage and body surf when the summer returns. He has provided me with a goal.
Jay Black, who fronted the Americans, died at 82. Interestingly, he was not the first Jay. That honor belongs to Jay Traynor who died in 2014 and left the band before it hit fame and fortune. Jay II’s name was actually David Blatt. Apparently, like the Ramones, if you’re in the band, you take the name they give you. His last name was mispronounced by Merv Griffin as Black, not Blatt and rather than correct the guy (hey, he invented Jeopardy after all), he went with it and Jay Black he was. He had an incredible range as is showcased in their hit Cara Mia, but I always thought their best song was “This Magic Moment.” The Doc Pomus line “Everything I want I have; whenever I hold you tight,” is a classic coming off Jay’s lips. I prefer Aaron Neville’s version because Aaron just sings like a bird. Like Tony Bennet and myself, Mr. Black (er Blatt) was born in Astoria but spent most of his youth in Brooklyn. He was an addicted gambler and was very close to John Gotti, attending his trial and singing at his kids’ weddings. How about that? Jay’s gambling wound him up in bankruptcy court where the name “Jay and the Americans” was auctioned off and bought by another guy in the group that no one has ever heard of (probably the bass player) Sandy Yaguda (PKA Sandy Deanne). Yaguda, a founding member of the group, hired Jay III (John Reincke) and they hit the road. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you are sitting on concert tickets. Before he got the gig as Jay, Blatt was selling shoes at Thom McCan (and all my life I thought it had two n’s) so if you have any musical talent at all, there is still hope.
Being Irish, I am a huge fan of the Chieftains. Their album “The Bells of Dublin” has been my favorite Christmas album for years. Until Jennifer Nettles set the standard for Oh Holy Night, Rickie Lee Jones’ more haunting version held the record for me. The jig us up for their leader and guiding force, Paddy Moloney (that’s how it’s spelled – look it up), who died this month at 83. One of the hallmarks of the Chieftains, during their over 60-year run, was their collaborations with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Luciano Pavarotti, Mick Jagger, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison and even Burgess Meredith, amongst many others. The band, who won six Grammy awards, performed everywhere from the Great Wall of China to royal Albert Hall. The Chieftains were invited to perform at Biden’s inaugural but declined due to Covid. Moloney also scored films and years ago started a record company, Claddagh Records, to promote traditional Irish music. Hope others carry on the tradition although they have big pipes to fill.
When you keep the beat for Elvis you make the Wall. Ron Tutt, who drummed for everyone from the King, to Billy Joel to the Jerry Garcia band has died at 83, surrounded by his family. No report on whether Elvis was there. For now, he will be Takin’ Care of Business elsewhere. He played on Joel’s second album, Piano Man (the little know Cold Spring Harbor was actually his first), Gram Parsons’ Grievous Angel (second recent reference) and Elvis Costello’s King of America, a trifecta of great music. Perhaps befitting his position as a drummer, the N. Y. Times overlooked him. Something I am sure they will fix at some point if they truly want to be the paper of record. I mean, it’s not like he’s a bass player for god’s sake. Anyway, somewhere there will be Good Rockin’ Tonight.
The Times did pick up on the death of another drummer, Dottie Dodgion, who played in an era when women were not thought about behind a kit. The daughter of a drummer, she played with Bennie Goodman, Tony Bennet and Zoot Sims. She continued to play until she hit 90 when Covid shut down the hotel where she had a steady gig. When she was young, she would spend weekends with her father’s band which played strip clubs. According to her, “his excellent time attracted all the best strippers.” I knew I should have practiced more with a metronome.
While I was happy at the time, I now wished my parents had forced me to play the piano as a child. I mean, no one at a party wants you to break out the drums and play “Melancholy Baby.” Mike Renzi, on the other hand, who died at age 80, had no such problems. As a pianist and arranger, he accompanied everyone from Tony Bennet to Mel Torme (the Velvet Fog died in 1999) and Hoagy Carmichael (the writer of “Stardust,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Heart and Soul” and many others, who died in 1985), to Big Bird (still going strong). Rex Reed once wrote of him in the Daily News that he was “undoubtedly the most talented and creative piano accompanist in New York.” Best of all, his day job was that of musical director for Sesame Street. Not sure, though, if he ever played with Dr. Tooth and the Electric Mayhem.
Rare is it that I have any connection with someone who winds up in a Times Obit but I once worked on a case with Pearl Tytell who with her husband, and ultimately her talented son Peter who predeceased her, ran the Tytell Questioned Documents Lab. She was involved in such cases as the prosecution of Sun Myung Moon and lawyers for Alger Hiss hired her to prove that a typewriter’s patterns could be reproduced. Her work formed the basis for Hiss’ appeal which failed. She was an expert in handwriting, typewriter (remember those things) typeface and paper. We used her to date a piece of paper that was allegedly signed before the paper was made. While her report was inconclusive the other side never tried to introduce the document. Of this I will say about her. She was a force.
Mort Sahl, a comedian whose act was perhaps more venomous political commentary than comedic, but who is owed a debt by many of today’s comedians who riff on the state of the world and its leaders rather than tell jokes, died at 94. Sort of a more modern Will Rogers uncensored and on steroids, he could be biting in his commentary and it cost him true fame and fortune. However, many people from Dick Gregory to Don Imus and many of our late-night talk show hosts really come from the Sahl mold if somewhat watered down. He had many detractors but no one could say he didn’t have an impact.
The Letterman Show (what’s left of it anyway), is coming apart at the seams. A month or two ago we lost the guy who flipped his cue cards and now the show’s announcer has uttered his last earthly phrase. Alan Kalter who, while not the first Letterman announcer (that honor goes to Bill Wendal who died back in 99 at 75), was certainly the most memorable, died at 78. Mr. Kalter cut his announcing teeth on such shows as the “$25,000 Pyramid” and “To Tell the Truth” and who was the voice of the Michelin Man, got the gig after Letterman heard his audition tape. Going beyond the role of mere announcer, Kalter took part in many of the comedic skits on the show although he once stepped out of character to sing Send in the Clowns in a serious manner. Turns out he also attended NYU Law school. Hope the Letterman slide stops here because I don’t want to be writing about Paul Schaffer (nailed that spelling) anytime soon.
If that isn’t obscure enough for you, Betty Lynn, the woman who played Thelma Lou, Barney Fife’s (Don Knotts who died in 2006 at 81) girlfriend on the Andy Griffith Show (Andy died at 86 in 2012) has kissed her last frog. Ms. Lynn appeared on the big screen in films such as “Cheaper By the Dozen” and on television in “Family Affair” and “My Three Sons,” hit her sweet spot by being sweet on Fife. Barney, however, was somewhat of a two-timer having had a phone relationship (keep your minds out of the gutter here, we’re talking Mayberry) with a diner waitress by the name of Juanita who never appeared on camera. Thelma Lou’s last name or occupation were never revealed on the show making her a woman of mystery. She was a beacon of hope for middle-aged single men, proving that if Barney Fife could get a girl who was not inflatable, they too had a shot. Her demise leaves only Opie (Ron Howard) standing as Aunt Bea has long left us. Like Paul Shaffer, I don’t want to be spilling any ink over Mr. Howard anytime soon.
In sports, Ray Fosse, perhaps best known for being mowed down by Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star game, passed away at 74. He was only 23 and a budding star for the Cleveland Indians when he was part of an infamous play-at-the-plate. In a game that was meant to showcase the best talent of the leagues and not necessarily be a competitive tour de force, no one told Rose who had only one speed when he rounded third in the twelfth inning and bowled over Fosse fracturing his left shoulder. Although he made the All-Star game again in 1971, he never seemed to be the player he could have been although he never blamed Rose. He said that he had taken harder hits but “that always seems to be at the top that people talk about.” On that point he was absolutely correct.
Last, but hardly least, we lost Colin Powell who was truly an American Patriot. Brought up in the South Bronx and the pride of Morris High School, Powell was truly and American superhero. My fear is that they don’t build them like him anymore. I could go on but except for apparently one person on this earth, you all know the story and the superlatives.
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